8 Life lessons from a not quite 40 year old

I’m 38 and 9/12ths years old.

Here’s my background story in 30 seconds: Left home at 14, worked like a shaved monkey as a cashier, store man, grocery jock and waiter to get through high school and pay rent. From there I could not afford to go to University, even though I desired it, so back to work as a labourer and masseur. I was lucky that I found “computers easy” and fell into the industry. I have worked an average of 60hr weeks over the last 18 years to reach a level normally only reserved for post graduates. I have worked for all of that time because I had too.

I also have made a lot of mistakes. A lot. No really, huge amounts of mistakes. I think you get the idea … Sometimes these through youthful indiscretion, through pure ignorance, sometimes through utopian naivety, stubbornness was a major factor too and far too many times through not having the brains to ask someone else for how they perceive the situation, or worse, only listening to people who simply agreed with me. Another thing I have always been guilty of in the past is mistaking passion and motivation as a source of success.

I say all of this because its important to learn from mistakes. It’s also important to understand that you are not limited to learn from just your own mistakes.

I am sitting here in a job I no longer have (perhaps never really had?) a passion for because I have followed the path society tells us we have to follow. The last ten years is where my life has been slowly been cleaned up and sorted. Cleaning up the mistakes of the previous ten years, wiping away debts and stopping the keeping up with the Jones’ mentality. The biggest mistake I made in all of my life? Settling. I settled for a house in suburbia, settled for a job that offered money. Settled for a life that I was told I should aim for.

So herein is the first lesson: Don’t settle. Work out what your dreams are – pursue them. Regardless of everything else, never let them become background noise. The things your heart sings about are the things you will regret the most if you don’t do them.

However, here is a second lesson: Don’t leap. It’s a bit like learning the difference between a high school crush, lust and actual love. It feels the same at first. If the passion you are chasing is something that will alter your life, then you owe it to yourself to determine if this is a good or bad thing. Take on some work experience – no one I have met has ever refused free labour. No time? Then consider short courses to bridge knowledge gaps. It doesn’t matter how you achieve it  – but you need a real world taste of experience and the knowledge to determine if it’s love … or just hormones.

Lesson three: Money isn’t everything, but it helps make the ride smoother. It is also a two edged sword. It can provide freedom. It can also trap. Having money can allow you to follow your dreams. Having money can mean being able to afford a project or undergo a change. However, taking on a mortgage can trap you and make you a slave quicker than you can spit. That said. If you are brave enough, then remember, regardless of how poor you are, you can start again and rebuild a comfortable life in ten years. There is no such thing as “too late”. There is always a choice, there is always another chance. The only thing that stops us is ourselves.

Lesson four: It’s OK to change your idea of what to do with your life more than once. Nothing is written in stone. Make up your own mind and feel free to change it. That said: plan. Whatever you choose, have a plan for going in, going through and coming out.

Lesson five: When listening to advice, hearing a pitch or even listening to a politician, always ask yourself, no matter what has been said – who benefits most from what has been stated? If the answer doesn’t include “my country, my community, my family or me” then who is it really for and why are you listening to it?

Lesson six: Struggling is not the same as failing. Life is not easy. Nothing ever is. Anything worth having is worth working for. Just because you are following your passion, does not mean it will not be a struggle. This also goes for relationships. Struggling is not a sign of failure but just a pothole along the road.

Lesson seven: Your life is yours and no one else’s. Your choices are yours and yours alone. You can complain about bad advice and a great many things, but at the end of the day in the cold hard light of clichés you made that choice. In my case – I know I complain about my position at the moment. However, I fear letting go of the financial prison I am in because my anxiety feels it it is slightly better than letting go of the mortgages and starting again. That, is my choice. What are your choices? Why did you make them? Make peace with them.

Lesson eight: Regardless of your beliefs, assume you have one life, make it one you are proud of. Remember no one lies on their death bed wishing they had finished one more ten hour shift! Do you know what they do regret? They regret that they did not have the courage to live a life true to themselves, to express their feelings and to have let themselves be happier. So, do yourself a favour – lie down, imagine it’s your deathbed, and start reciting the story of your life … What is your story? What are the highlights? Who are you reciting it to? Now, work back from there … what do you need to make your life meet that story half way and continue from there?

I don’t have all the answers, and I’m sure my list of lessons will grow as I keep going … but that’s what I have for now.

Other than “knowing it doesn’t mean it’s easy to change it?”  Have I missed anything?

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